API abuse is on the rise - should organizations be worried

In the modern digitized cloud-centric world, the use of APIs has become nothing less than necessary. API integration allows organizations to interact within products and services of a similar nature, paving the way for business growth.

While this is indeed the greener side of the grass, the rise of API abuse has somehow overshadowed the massive growth capabilities of integrating APIs within organizations. Cybercriminals are now actively exploiting these publicly available APIs putting organizations at significant risk. As threat actors use these APIs as attack vectors, organizations are now at substantial risk of losing precious information, clients, and customers.

What Do We Mean by API Abuse?

API abuse has become one of the most prevalent cyberattacks with a broad target range. In 2019, Gartner predicted that API hacks would become the most common form of cyberattacks in 2022.

Now, as the use of mobile devices, IoT, and cloud-based services continues to rise, it has brought about a significant change in the modern threat landscape, seemingly fulfilling Gartner’s prediction. Organizations now have several fronts that they need to secure, ultimately leading to a haphazard and rickety security framework.

The problem with these APIs is the wide variety of information they process, including user credentials, payment information, and security numbers. With such information at hand, APIs are unfortunately under the limelight for various cybercriminals.

A recent survey by Radware reveals the struggle organizations face in maintaining security across platforms. Among surveyed organizations, 40% reportedly had more than half of their organization exposed to third-party service through APIs. Similarly, 55% of organizations face DoS attacks every month through APIs, while 49% experience injection-based attacks.

Similarly, another survey by Salt Security involving more than 200 enterprise security officials highlights how 91% of organizations experienced API security issues last year. According to the study, 56% of organizations faced around 10-55 attacks per month, while 22% suffered about 51-200 API attacks per month.

These statistics alone reveal how API abuse is one of the most common attack vectors that cybercriminals exploit. Amidst that, organizations must patch API security holes to ensure robust cybersecurity.

Why Is API Abuse a Significant Issue?

The modern digital economy makes it exceedingly necessary for organizations to rely on APIs to directly access their most critical data and assets. Organizations now rely on APIs to create communications with partners and consumers. However, despite the ease these APIs ensure, they also become a substantial risk factor for attackers to exploit.

The recently surging popularity of API use and functionality has made these APIs an attractive target for attackers. Such popularity of APIs somewhat explains the significant rise in volume and sophistication of these API attacks.

The same surveys highlight the growing correlation between the boost in API functionality and a rise in malicious traffic targeting APIs. Researchers found a 211% increase in malicious traffic, within which there is an evident increase in malicious traffic targeting APIs.

While the increase in such malicious traffic is alarming within itself, the problem lies in the evident lack of security that API organizations implement. Almost 25% of organizations severely lack a proper API security strategy.

This remains particularly concerning as most of these organizations found vulnerabilities within APIs that were neglected until an attacker exploited them. Therefore, APIs being under the attacker’s radar is not the only gaping security problem for APIs. The evident lack of proper security tools and strategies is also one of the looming reasons behind API abuse.

3 Reasons Why APIs Are a Big Threat

Some of the most common reasons why APIs are the biggest threat for organizations are as follows.

1. Lack of Awareness Regarding Bot Management

Bot management is a rising concern for ensuring API security, especially since most organizations are unprepared to manage bot traffic properly. While several existing web application firewalls prevent bot attacks against APIs, bot management tools are a much more secure alternative. However, despite the rise in bot attacks against APIs, many organizations lack proper solutions to differentiate between a genuine user and bot, carving a pathway for easy bot exploitation.

2. Mobile Applications Are a Security Hazard

While mobile applications allow organizations an accessible communication channel with their consumers, they remain a rising security concern. Since most of these mobile applications are created by third-party developers, there is often a lack of security measures. Therefore, many organizations don’t secure their mobile apps properly. A report by Radware shows how only 36% of mobile apps have fully integrated security systems within their development while the rest remain insecure. Although many users are now somewhat aware and do ensure protection through residential proxies or VPNs, if the app itself is insecure, there are few such tools to help protect them.

3. DDoS Attacks Are a Significant Issue

Publicly available APIs are crucial for business growth, allowing customers to access the organization’s platform programmatically. They can help create awareness regarding the offered products and services by opening a communicative channel. However, with public APIs comes the looming danger of DDoS attacks. Admittedly, there is DDoS protection available. However, most DDoS protection works by absorbing and rejecting many requests from bad actors while letting the presumably “good” requests pass through. When it comes to implementing that same security for APIs, it becomes somewhat tricky as all traffic looks like bot traffic that isn’t emerging from a browser source where cookies are present for cross-referencing.

How Can Organizations Ensure API Security?

APIs are exceedingly beneficial for business growth and development, but organizations must implement API security to continue their use. Fortunately, organizations can deploy several known methods for renewing API security, such as:

  • Use secure authentication measures: Many public APIs have little or no authentication methods. Since APIs are often the gateway to an organization’s database, it’s best to ensure reliable authentication and authorization measures to ensure security.
  • Implement TLS encryption: APIs are often modes of communication and are involved in sharing sensitive information. It is, therefore, best to secure their payload data through TLS encryption.
  • Practice the least privilege security model: The least privilege security model deems it necessary to share only relevant information with all users, servers, programs, and devices present within a system. It is best to ensure the same principle with APIs due to sensitive information.
  • Limit the information you share: Some APIs share an unnecessary amount of data, often in the form of extraneous data returning through the API. While it is considered harmless, this information can reveal sensitive information about the API endpoint, which is why it is best to practice data control.

By following a few cybersecurity best practices, organizations can ensure the safe use of APIs. With that, they can fully take advantage of the benefits of integrating APIs within their system with fewer looming cyber threats.

Conclusion

APIs have rapidly become a crucial part of organizations due to the modern digitized world. The advent of hybrid working models has integrated cloud-based information and storage platforms and a heavy reliance on mobile applications. Amidst this, when everything relies on the internet, it is best to ensure robust and safe API security.